This is an original fiction piece posted for StoryADay September. It was written a long time ago, and since then, a much longer and more mature version has been written. It is based on Liam O’Flaherty’s 1923 short story “The Sniper”. Read more about StoryADay & follow here.
The Republican Sniper started across the street to his bounty, curious of its identity. As he dashed across the street, a hail of machine gun fire came from a nearby roof and followed close behind him. He dodged it effortlessly, and dove beside the kill which he called his own. He looked at the body of the other sniper and recalled the recent events of that night which had led to that moment. Their waltz was now over, and he had won. Curious of his identity, he knelt down next to the Free State sniper’s body, and peered over his shoulder and stared into the open eyes of his dead brother.
* * *
(Earlier that night)
Dublin was dark- enveloped and engulfed in the shadow of Civil War, waiting for the long June dusk to wither down to darkness. It was like a sleeping giant, waiting for either morning or liberation from the war to come before it awoke. One lone vehicle was out that night, traveling across the bridge that went over the Liffey. Continuously and bravely it advanced, almost wanting to be attacked. This vehicle was safe, though, its steel walls had been resisting bullets all day, keeping its driver and passengers safe from the Republican gunfire. It was on rendezvous to meet an informer, but its driver’s thoughts were elsewhere.
The driver was thinking of better times, when both his children were on the same side of the war. Now, though, they were split, one of his sons joining him as a Free-State fighter, as a sniper, the other joining the Republican forces. The driver tried to think of where he had gone wrong with his son who was on the opposing force. Once, the child had been sweet and innocent; but now, he was a student who enjoyed smoking, drinking whiskey, and was now a cold machine of war who had the blood of many fellow Free-Staters on his hands.
The Driver had two passengers with him that night: a turret gunner, and a new back-up gunner. They all had a simple task: to meet an informer with information on where a sniper, who had been committing a spree of murders, was hiding.
As they pulled over to the South side of the street, an old lady wearing a tattered shawl shuffled over to meet them. The gunner stood up in the tiny cramped quarters of the vehicle and climbed into the turret to hear the woman through the small slits cut into the side. The Driver sat, staring straight ahead through the small window and watching the woman point erratically to the top of a building across the street on the North side, apparently where the sniper was. The gunner, in an attempt to get a visual on the sniper’s post above his head, sat in the gunnery seat, opened the turret, and stared at the top of the building. All the Driver could hear in the steel sepulcher was the muffled speech of this woman and the saliva slosh from the tobacco in the mouth of the young, new, optimistic, and bright eyed back-up gunner. That’s how you knew how long someone had been in the war, the Driver thought – by their eyes. The brighter, the shorter. The Driver looked into the rear-view mirror into his own eyes. They still had some blue in them, though dull it was. The few lights on the other side of the river reflected into his eyes. They seemed to add more life to his eyes which contained so little. How appropriate? the Driver thought: the last bit of life to be seen within him was to be found in Dublin, and even that was slowly being killed by the gaping schism which poured out all the remaining life found there. The split in the country spread into everything. His children were enemies, his neighbors were in arms, the church angered both sides through its apathy and pacifistic rhetoric, and he didn’t feel like knew his wife anymore. But sacrifices had to be made for what was right, right? right?
The Driver was brought back to the present by a youthful and unexpected Oh Shit! That rang throughout the vehicle. He heard a loud crack echo through the empty street and the sound of the heavy turret door close halfway in response to a dull thud that lingered on the roof of the vehicle. He had no idea what was happening. That is, until the old lady standing in front of him outside the vehicle let out a violent shriek, and fell into a gutter with a portion of her face missing. At that moment, more out of instinct than training, the Driver turned the vehicle around and headed to the other side of the nearest building. As he escaped, he noticed a small flash appear from rooftops of the South side of the street, opposite of the Republican sniper, and the shooting stopped.
After the Driver had arrived around the corner, he decided to check on his gunner. As he turned in his seat, his mind latched onto the fact that out of everyone he knew in all of Dublin, this gunner was the only one that he had grown closer to since the war. The two had grown up together. He was his best friend and comrade in arms. He was the one bit of constancy left in this Hell. In spite of this, the Gunner was horrible at his job. Being higher in rank, the Driver had a responsibility to ask the Gunner why he did not shoot back at the Republican sniper firing at them. The driver made his way to the secondary turret which was adjacent to the gunnery one and was used for scouting, and opened it. His best friend’s head lay limp on the gunnery turret next to him. The door was closed halfway on what was left; his eyes open, blood flowing from his mouth, and his right temple blown off exposing brain tissue and blood. The Driver’s face began to feel hot. Anger rose in the driver. Anger and hatred he had never felt before. He reached to his side and found his pistol. He went back inside the vehicle to tell his back-up gunner what he was to do. He stuck his face back into the dark solace of the armored vehicle, and looked at the back-up gunner. Before he could say anything, he was taken back as he noticed in the soft pale glow of the moon, for the first time, how much the back-up gunner resembled his rogue son. The back-up gunner had accidentally spit his tobacco onto the crotch of his pants, and had a look on his face as if he had messed his pants, and needed help cleaning it. The back-up gunner just stared at the Driver with that lost look of need for guidance; the blue of his eyes already dull. The Driver just sat, staring at that face, those eyes. A drop of blood then dripped from the gunner turret above onto the back of the Back-up Gunner’s hand. The Driver’s attention was diverted to this, as the one drop seemed to grow before his eyes to cover the whole of the Back-up Gunner’s hands, and the uniform seemed to turn into the uniform of a Republican sniper. His anger returned. He was dizzy with it. He told the Back-up Gunner to drive back across the bridge to headquarters and tell their superiors all that had happened. He was going after the sniper.
As the Driver climbed out of the vehicle, he looked around for the first time in a long while. His anger was put aside for yet another moment as he noticed his surroundings. Serenity enveloped the city, making it seem calm and even somewhat peaceful, even among the occasional spasms of gunfire shouting in the distance. The reality of it all seemed to strike him at that very moment: Dublin, where the man had spent his whole life, got married, and raised his sons was now split, divided, and caught in the jaws of the beast that was Civil war. Yet, even as friends, neighbors, and families took sides, the rest of the world continued on its long, redundant flight known as life. The Driver’s thoughts returned to that of his son, who had runaway to join the Republicans. Then, this man, who had been hardened by war many times before, and was a driver by occupation, returned to his role as father as he broke down there on the pavement before him. Falling on his knees, he sobbed in his hands, not knowing how the Hell any of this had come to pass; not knowing what to do about it; not knowing what to think. Right?
He was brought back into reality at the sound of a rifle shot from the South side of the street. In response to this shot, a Republican cap floated down and landed about five yards in front of the driver around the corner. It had a bullet hole through it. As he picked the cap up, he was almost struck by a rifle falling to the pavement from the top of the building next to him where the Republican sniper was said to be. The rifle had been dropped by the Republican sniper that had attacked them before, and so had the cap that he held in his hands, but why were they dropped? Could there have been another sniper across the street that was a Free-Stater? Could the Republican sniper be dead? He couldn’t be, concluded the driver, because of the absence of blood on the cap. The man’s questions were soon answered as the sound of a pistol resounded throughout the block and a man on the South rooftop of the street fell off the roof of the building. The man fell turning, turning in the air and landing with a thud on the ground across the street. Oh God, thought the Driver, the fellow Free-Stater must have mistaken the Republican’s cap and gun falling as a sign of his victory, only to be shot by his enemy’s back-up pistol after falling for the deception. It was an ingenious trick on the Republican’s part, but one that would not go unanswered for.
The horrified driver pulled out his field binoculars and peered through them at the body. He saw, up close, the boots of the man and confirmed that they were in fact Free-State issue. The driver then worked his way, peering through the binoculars, along the man’s Free-State sniper uniform pants, then jacket. The driver’s stomach tightened, his throat contracted, and the feeling of nausea and weakness overtook him as he saw the bloodied face of the man. Through the blood the driver could just make out the soft skin, the dark eyebrows, and the thin and slender face of the dead young man- his son. Thousands of thoughts, memories, and emotions flooded and overtook his person. His horror turned to fear. His fear turned to anger. His anger then turned to hatred. His hatred finally turned to vengefulness as the driver swore and vowed to find and kill the enemy sniper.
The man hurried into the building in which the sniper took refuge. He ran up the many flights of stairs to the upper storage room that contained a ladder beneath an open skylight that looked out onto the roof. The driver, blinded by loathing, prepared to ascend to the roof and kill the sniper. Just before he could accomplish this, the sniper himself descended through the skylight. The driver hid behind some boxes and drew his pistol. The sniper kept his back to the driver as he started down the ladder. He reached the floor, readjusted his pistol on his side and started down the stairs. The driver aimed his pistol and had the perfect fatal shot. He held his breath, prepared to fire, but his hand started to shake and a sweat bead falling down his face took over his attention. Hesitation came over him and he didn’t take the opportunity. The driver swore at himself for this, almost loud enough for the sniper to hear. The driver moved from his position and slowly followed the sniper to the streets below.
Upon arriving, he noticed the Republican sniper charge across the street, to his son’s body, effortlessly dodging machine gun fire. The driver ran around the corner of the building and stood, pistol drawn, watching the sniper stand over his son. The driver then noticed how cool it was then, even for it being the middle of June. The driver noticed the full moon out that night, the only illumination in all of Dublin this side of the Liffey. He peered out into the beautiful clear night, praying to God to give him the will power not to kill this young man crouching next to his son’s body; to let this young man live to see another day; to let this man maybe reunite with any of his family members he might have gone against. Even as he prayed the words silently to himself he raised the pistol from his side, trying not to let it slip from his perspiring palms. In the pale blue light of the moon, the driver could see the sniper crumble at the side of his son, as if he cared as to whom he had killed. The driver’s throat tightened, drops of cool sweat ran down his face, and a hotness grew in his soul as he peered through the sights of the pistol.
The man, the free-stater, the driver, and the Father found the sniper’s head in between the sights, pulled the trigger, and fired.
This work by Paul Burkhart is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.